Mirror, Mirror, in your Business

A small business reflects ownership.  No two businesses are the same, and a collection of local commerce centers creates a regional landscape that’s as inimitable as a gigantic fingerprint; it cannot be duplicated.

The very unique nature of miniscule commerce is what makes it attractive.  To emphasize the point, imagine a small business landscape as myopic as the superstore reality; most readers will cringe at the thought.  Yet, entrepreneurs continue to mimic the ‘big stores’, abandoning their own identity in hopes of achieving success by imitation.  These establishments become stuck in limbo between stand-out charisma and off-putting attitude, remaining quietly mediocre.

The paradox of self employment is that the public simultaneously craves and rejects the unfamiliar.  People love to tell friends about the unique little café, owned and operated by a quirky duo, they discovered on vacation.  They also consciously avoid the offbeat café in their hometown because the atmosphere is unfamiliar and the owners are peculiar. 

How do entrepreneurs successfully express individuality when individuality gives customers pause?

Professional advice remains bifurcated.  There is a school of thought that propounds bold, personal distinction targeting a particular segment of the population, accepting comparatively lower numbers of customers in exchange for higher loyalty from each individual.  The other school of thought warns against letting too much of your opinion into the commerce area, preferring to cast a wide net and capture a greater number of people who simply enjoy whatever product is being sold.

My style leans toward bold personality and direction.  Such a direction limits your audience to those who feel the same commitment to your cause, but a small business isn’t usually seeking to become an empire commanding all of the customers.  Entrepreneurs are looking to amplify a culture that exists below the surface of the corporate customer base.  By providing for the needs of a community, small businesses gain traction through the most effective of all advertising: word of mouth.  When people start talking, results, either good or bad, happen quickly.

Want a solid business that makes a disproportionate impact relative to its scale?  Target and inspire customers who enthusiastically agree with you.

Communicate why you’re doing what you’re doing.  It’s like cracking a combination lock:  Right “click”: people get the foundation of your message.  Left “click”: add supporting tiers of your opinion for better understanding.  Right “click”: intertwine the whole of your message to explain the results being sought.  Input the correct combination, and your customers are empowered; they become a part of your business.  The unfamiliar becomes familiar. This should be the dream of small business: to become so robust that the message, commerce, and objective diffuse into the lives of patrons.

A personal example: Over the past decade I’ve transformed from the most enthusiastic grain-fed beef proponent into a devoted believer in 100% grassfed beef.  The shift presents a challenge.  Our customers, accustomed to grain-finished beef, see no reason to convert from one finishing style to another.  They are perfectly content with our original offering.  I eventually realized if the grassfed venture is to gain traction, customers need to see the project through my eyes.  To realize the objective, I offer farm discovery tours titled Grassfed Gadabouts, blog posts explaining my point of view, side-by-side beef tastings with the help of skilled local chefs, and regular personal dialogues with customers.  My style is increasingly recognizable, and customers, once taken aback by change, now approach with a desire to learn.  Many are themselves new believers in grassfed beef.

How much of your personality should show up in your business?  All of it.  The outcome of individualism cannot be discerned on a case-by-case basis; the scope is too narrow.  Rather, results are determined by viewing the whole of the business landscape within a community.  Aggregated businesses, each portraying bold style, create a whole that is appealing to a wide array of customers, thus attracting a much broader representation of the population than a standalone small business could ever hope to attract.  The aforementioned paradox is broken when patrons can satisfy their curiosity by exploring a region and still discover small businesses that best match their personal style. 

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It helps if the parts have character.